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Sunday, August 29, 2004
Mixed Martial Arts--- K-1's MMA Divison Put on Hold Indefinitely
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly
K-1 has confirmed what many in the mixed martial arts world already suspected: K-1 has put its MMA division on hold indefinitely. The second K-1 MMA event was originally scheduled to take place in late September, but before the event was ever officially booked, doubts began to surface about whether K-1 would ever put on a second MMA show. Now K-1 matchmaker Sadaharu Tanigawa has told a Japanese newspaper (as reported by Puroresu Power) that there are no plans for any further K-1 MMA shows in the forseeable future.
The idea of having MMA-only shows starting developing internally in K-1 towards the end of 2003 after Bob Sapp's lackluster performances under K-1 rules against Kimo and Remy Bonjasky (where Sapp got himself intentionally disqualified to avoid being KO'ed or TKO'ed).
K-1 realized that Sapp was no longer going to be able to beat top names in their traditional kickboxing-rules matches, but there was a feeling within K-1 that Sapp would do much better under MMA rules. Having an MMA division would also allow K-1 to sign away more top stars in their ongoing war with Pride in Japan.
So, the IWGP pro wrestling title was to be put on the line for the first time in a shoot fight between Bob Sapp and Kazuyuki Fujita scheduled for May 22 of this year, after which Sapp would be able to fight on numerous shows defending the prestigious belt.
To put it lightly, it didn't work out as K-1 hoped. Sapp was demolished by Fujita, and after losing another K-1 rules bout to Ray Sefo, Sapp was all-but-gone from K-1. He is now filming his role in "The Longest Yard" starring Adam Sandler, and is expected to be back in K-1 next year at the earliest (or never).
The loss of Sapp as the anchor of the MMA division, combined with the broader issue of K-1's huge financial losses due to overpaying fighters and not drawing enough fans into arenas, spelled the end of K-1 MMA for the forseeable future.
The question now becomes, "What will happen to all of the fighters under K-1 MMA contracts?" This includes fighters who previously fought in the UFC like BJ Penn and Genki Sudo, as well as fighters signed away from possible Pride deals like Don Frye, Royler Gracie, Rodrigo Gracie, Alistair Overeem, and Sylvester "The Predator" Terkay (who hadn't even debuted for Pride yet).
According to K-1's Sadaharu Tanigawa, fighters who are under contract to K-1 MMA will not be allowed out of their contracts, but they will be able to fight for other organizations just as long as K-1 acts as the go-between (and thus gets a cut of the fighters' purses).
Of all the fighters listed above, BJ Penn is undoubtedly the one who is most damaged by his decision to sign with K-1. Penn won the UFC Welterweight Title by defeating Matt Hughes in January of this year, then turned down the UFC's requests for him to defend the belt against Hughes or one other welterweight fighter. As with all championship bout agreements, the UFC 46 bout agreement that Penn signed stipulated that Penn would be an exclusive UFC fighter for a period of one year if he won the belt. Nonetheless, Penn chose to take a higher financial offer from K-1 MMA to fight on their May 22 card, and as a result he was immediately outcast from the UFC and stripped of the Welterweight Title.
Where does BJ Penn go from here, you ask? As far as big-money offers go, the answer is more than likely nowhere. The UFC is not going to re-hire someone who violated an exclusive UFC contract. K-1 does not have an MMA division anymore, and it is very unlikely that Penn would agree to start fighting in K-1 under kickboxing rules. Pride may or may not be interested in adding Penn to their smaller Bushido line of shows, but they wouldn't be offering anywhere near the amount of money that K-1 offered, or even necessarily the amount that Penn was making in the UFC. Penn may be limited to fighting for his family's own Hawaii-based promotion, Rumble on the Rocks.
As for the other fighters who signed K-1 MMA contracts:
-Several of the fighters in question have fought under K-1's kickboxing rules in the past and/or would have no problem doing so in the future (Gary Goodridge, Duane Ludwig, Alistair Overeem, Sylvester Terkay).
-Rodrigo and Royler Gracie will be able to get MMA bookings in Pride if they choose to, provided that they don't set their asking price too high.
-Don Frye makes most of his money in pro wrestling anyway, and is very limited in what he can do physically at this point due to spinal injuries which he has still not had surgery on. (You can add Frye to Pat Miletich and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on the list of fighters who have had back or spinal injuries for a couple of years but have not had corrective surgery.)
-Ricco Rodriguez will be greatly hurt by K-1 MMA's closure due to the fact that he has already burned his bridges with the UFC and Pride, and as previously reported on MMAWeekly, his last remaining option to make big-time money was in K-1 MMA.
-Kazuyuki Fujita is under contract to New Japan Pro Wrestling and is loyal to Antonio Inoki, who is one of the lead money backers behind New Japan and K-1. This makes any future Pride appearances for Fujita very unlikely given the intense nature of the war between K-1 and Pride, with Inoki firmly entrenched on the K-1 side of the battle.